Golfers may have to give up 'independent contractor' status to secure big prize money, McIlroy says
PGA Tour

Golfers may have to give up ‘independent contractor’ status to secure big prize money, McIlroy says

A photo of golfer Rory McIlroy DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 30: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates with the winners trophy on the 18th green after the final round of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on January 30, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Professional golfers have long prided themselves on the notion that they are viewed as "independent contractors," but Rory McIlroy sees a future where there term will disappear in exchange for access to billions in investor capital.

Speaking at the Dubai Invitational on Wednesday, McIlroy made clear that corporate backers and sponsors bankrolling consistent eight-figure purses will want assurances that the best players show up to play when they say -- not when the players feel ready to compete.

"When you look at different sports and the media landscape and how much these media companies are paying for sporting events, I think you have to be able to guarantee them the product that they are paying for," McIlroy said.

"So in my opinion, yeah, I would say that people would have to be contracted and sign up to a certain number of events every year; that the sponsors and media partners know that the guys they want to be there are going to be."

Last year, the PGA Tour required players to compete in all but one of their designated events (the precursor to Signature events) in exchange for a portion their compensation from the then-$100 million Player Impact Program. McIlroy missed a second event at the RBC Heritage to jeopardize his payout.

The term "independent contractor" is flung around a lot when it comes to matters of player movement and freedom, particularly when it has come to the idea of players signing with LIV Golf and then seeking to continue their membership on various professional golf tours -- namely the PGA Tour and DP World Tour. That term is used despite the truth that being an "independent contractor" is more of a tax moniker than a professional reality, as each membership-based organization has its own rules and regulations these players must follow and can have enforced upon them.

However, LIV Golf has created an alternative reality for their players, who have signed on to play the Saudi-backed league with contracts that require them to play each event on the league schedule (with exceptions for injury and other situations). LIV Golf players commit to the league and their teams to compete in each event.

With that commitment comes salaries and signing bonuses that are outsized relative to what players can earn on the PGA Tour or DP World Tour. LIV Golf players also compete in just 14 total events currently, and they compete for a $20 million individual purse in the 12 regular-season events. In exchange for access to that money, players have to give up certain facets of their "independent contractor" status.

The PGA Tour's likely new investors in Strategic Sports Group and the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which owns LIV Golf, have businesses where their athlete assets are required to show up on their schedule, not come and go as they please. Moving forward, it's almost a certainty that players will have to sign agreements to access the biggest events they bankroll and support.

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Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for nearly 20 years. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He is a scratch golfer...sometimes.

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